Toward the Creation of New Paradigms for Research into Diversity by Latin American Universities

Receipt: April 10, 2023

Acceptance: June 08, 2023


This text addresses the discussion on decoloniality in social studies on Latin America from different research experiences that seek to problematize the concept and show that not all research carried out in the so-called Global South is decolonial. It also presents scenarios in which academic works have justified the reproduction of inequalities in Latin America, as well as the discrimination that affects the region and prevents access to models of social justice.

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toward the creation of new paradigms for research into diversity by latin american universities

This text addresses the debate about decoloniality in Latin American social studies from different research experiences that seek to problematize the concept and show that not all research that is done on the so-called Global South is decolonial. It also raises scenarios where academic works have justified the reproduction of inequalities in Latin America, as well as the discrimination that affects the region and that impedes access to social justice models.

Keywords: inequality, discrimination, intercultural education, Latin America, ethnicity and race.

The reading of the text presented by David Lehmann on some changes in the perspectives of social research in Latin America is a provocation for reflection on the way in which we have approached different scenarios in the region in recent decades. It seems important to me to highlight a first distinction that has to do with the perspective of scholars who approach Latin America from the hegemonic countries and those who do so from the so-called "hegemonic" countries. Global South. This distinction is central, as it justifies part of the argument on the decolonial perspective and questions its impact on social justice; however, I will elaborate on this issue below.

The other point on which I wish to focus my text is inscribed in the growing concern that, from the social sciences, the study of the different factors that condition inequality in this historically exclusive -and often excluded- region has had, and the specific weight that some of these factors may have. In particular, I will develop some issues that were left "in the ink" in one of the works cited by Lehmann as an example of the new paradigms on social research in Latin America, not only because I had the enormous privilege of being part of the research team of the Ethnicity and Race in Latin America Project (better known as pearl), but also because of the growing concern in the region and the world about the very harmful impact of discrimination and the great risks involved in documenting diversity -ethnic, gender and others- without emphasizing how it tends to justify various forms of exclusion.

Finally, I would also like to address a topic barely sketched in Lehmann's text, but which is of growing importance in publications on Latin America and its relationship with the world, and which analyzes the role of hate speeches disseminated through the media and socio-digital networks, which even use the results of some academic research to justify discrimination and racism. Those of us who have worked with scientific rigor on these issues sometimes see our research used to disqualify people who belong to historically discriminated groups (Abel, 2023).

I will leave out topics that I know beforehand are central to this discussion, such as those that have to do with the impact of religious diversity or the analysis of different gender orientations, but I will try to take up other topics addressed by Lehmann in order to discuss with him the social construction of diversities in Latin America and what it means to do so from one's own perspective -which I believe is often not decolonial- and the external gaze. For this exercise I will also recover part of my experience in the training of colleagues coming from different indigenous peoples of Mexico and Latin America, with whom I have an enormous debt in epistemological terms, and also in terms of their ability to combine different perspectives. etic and emic, to take up the tradition of linguistic anthropology (Duranti, 2000), to think differently about the scope of decoloniality and to relativize the universality of some values that much of Latin Americanist academia takes for granted. In particular, I will focus on the one that takes up the tension between universal values -for example, those recognized as Human Rights- and the concerns of part of the academic community about the specific rights of minority populations (Cfr. Lehmann, 2022).

For much of the last century, the study of diversities in Latin America has focused on the documentation of ethno-racial diversity, which usually refers to the differentiation between native peoples, Afro-descendant peoples and people who inhabit the region and come from other parts of the world. This emphasis has been motivated by the very origin of disciplines such as anthropology in countries like Mexico and its Boasian tradition (De la Peña, 1996). The concern of the founders of Mexican anthropology for the generation of identity categories (many of them hetero-identifying)1 coincides with efforts at the regional level to strengthen national identities based on the incorporation of all people born in a country as part of a nationalist narrative. These narratives have been remarkably successful in countries such as Brazil and Mexico, which have had several social scientists since the beginning of the 20th century trained in North American culturalist anthropology (Martínez Casas, Saldívar, Flores and Sue, 2019).

One of the differences between the identity categories proposed by anthropologists such as Manuel Gamio or Paulo Freire and the new perspectives analyzed in Lehmann's text lies in the purpose for which these categories were created. If the identifications seek to generate national projects that artificially erase diversity, we are faced with what authors such as Stavenhagen categorically call internal colonialismThe challenge is not to document the value of diversity, but to achieve national homogenization (Stavenhagen, 2001). In many cases the intentions were not bad; the young Latin American nations of the first half of the 20th century required aggressive actions to mitigate the enormous social inequalities. The problem -or one of the problems- is that the discriminated sectors themselves have been held responsible for their exclusion. Indigenous people are poor because of their lack of educationbecause they do not speak well Spanish or because they live in rural regions. Their destiny is, almost inevitably, to leave their origins behind to join the national development (see Telles and Martínez Casas, 2019). It will be other people-academics, government officials, international agencies-who will design the best route for their redemption. Stavenhagen's analyses show how the use of these categories of identification has given rise to projects that not only infringe on the cultural rights of ethnic minorities, but have also justified their displacement for the sake of their incorporation into the national development and other forms of dispossession of their territories and ways of life. This concern is in line with Lehmann's text in relation to the regional aspiration to achieve true social justice for the benefit of historically discriminated sectors.

Another difference in the use of this type of identification categories lies in the shift that began to take place right in the middle of the 20th century and that triggered a series of demands regarding the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples to their identity, their language and the management of their territory. This type of proposal changed the paradigms for the establishment of identities - specifically ethnic-racial identities - in order to allow people to appropriate these categories and make them their own. One of the effects of this shift can be seen in the increase in ethnic self-ascription in most Latin American censuses in the 20th century. xxi (Barbary and Martínez Casas, 2015). However, this does not ensure a decolonial view of the change of course. While the visibilization of many demands of excluded social groups is undeniable, inequality in the region has not been equally mitigated. Common proposals often arise for the use of ethnonyms that allow people to use labels that are in everyday use in their regions and that usually include terms in the different languages spoken in the country; however, their use by governmental institutions and by many academics is still very limited (inpi, 2023).

I would also like to reflect on the experience of intercultural education, especially in institutions of higher education, and the efforts in the space in which I have developed a good part of my academic work. Lehmann analyzes the experience of intercultural universities in Mexico and recovers the analyses of authors such as Dietz and Mateos (2020), but does not analyze the project for the training of linguists from the ciesas. The small size of the program probably makes its impact little known, but it has allowed three hundred young speakers of indigenous languages in Mexico and Latin America to study the languages of the communities they come from and to influence public policies, not only in the educational sphere, but also in various public spaces, as well as in a large number of communities seeking to strengthen their linguistic and cultural heritage (Martínez Casas, 2011). The linguists who graduated from the undergraduate program in Ethnolinguistics (1979-1985) and the postgraduate program in Indo-American Linguistics, which began in 1991 and is still in operation, are a good example of the efforts that have been made to train, with a decolonial aspiration, academics who should have a greater impact than others on the inclusion of cultural diversity in research in the social sciences and humanities.

But the reality is that only some of the graduates of the graduate program in Indo-American Linguistics manage to move comfortably between the academic world and the community life of their localities of origin. The pressures of peer collectives place them in positions that oscillate between subordination to the experts and distrust of their origin and belonging. This is particularly acute for women, who encounter serious obstacles in reconciling family and community life with the demands of university life. Of my colleagues who graduated from the graduate program in Indo-American Linguistics, most are single and childless, and it is almost never their decision. Du Bois, more than a century ago, had already analyzed the phenomenon he called double consciousness and that forces racialized people to move away from their primary groups of belonging (Rabaka, 2009). This phenomenon explains the difficulty in making some of the efforts to professionalize minority groups truly decolonial; nevertheless, Rabaka -taking up Du Bois- shows the importance of affirmative action for the emergence of a new social theory that is built from the perspective of the different and distances itself from the hegemonic academy.

Consequently, this does not detract from the merits of the academic training proposals that seek to reduce the educational and labor gaps of indigenous people -especially women-; however, their proposals have not yet been sufficiently convincing to be truly decolonial not only in epistemological terms, but also in terms of their capacity for social impact. It is not enough to propose a participatory academic model with and from historically excluded groups; it is necessary, as Lehmann states in his text, to continue proposing strategies that better articulate social research with the demands of people who have immemorially experienced discrimination and who genuinely aspire to a more just society. This has also been addressed in other research on the educational trajectories of indigenous students and the barriers they often face in achieving a good insertion in both the academic world and the labor market (Czarny, 2008).

Finally, I proposed to address an issue that is treated with a different perspective by Lehmann in the article we are discussing: identities and inequalities in the digital era are expressed in very different ways than they were during the 20th century. xx (Castells, 2001). Not only did the covid-19 pandemic force us to mediatize practically all areas of people's lives, but a few years earlier the socio-digital networks had already become a means of expression of different ways of understanding the decolonial processes, but they have also found resonance boxes that amplify the expressions of rejection of diversity (Cfr. Abel, 2023).

As I pointed out at the beginning of this text, the new ways of doing social and humanistic research in Latin America have had the enormous advantage of being able to massively disseminate many of the results of academic work and have forced us to communicate with non-specialized audiences. There are also manifestations in different ways - and from these different audiences - of unprecedented uses of the results of research on diversities. Support and criticism no longer come only from the academic community; it is now very common to find allusions to research works that, instead of producing the expected effects in the search for a more inclusive and respectful society, are used to justify racist or xenophobic expressions. This situation is not new; Huntington -hero and inspiration for characters such as Donald Trump- began his work on American identity and the undesirability of Hispanic migration by quoting Mexican academics and writers (Huntington, 2004). This and other of his works have been taken up by supremacist movements and of a particular nationalism that are growing every day not only in the United States, where they originated, but also in many other countries of the Latin American region. The denunciations of this type of exclusionary nationalism have had an important manifestation in movements such as Black Life Matters (civicus2021) and continue to be present in many public expressions of political actors with global influence.

And with this topic I would like to end my dialogue with the work of David Lehmann, the decolonial gaze is neither univocal nor infallible and is in the process of construction both by Latin Americanist colleagues working in institutions in hegemonic countries and by those of us who do so from less visible positions and, increasingly, by researchers who come from historically excluded sectors. I do not have a recipe to ensure the success of this important epistemological challenge, but I aspire - like many of my colleagues - to ensure that the work of social research improves the living conditions of those of us who live in one of the most unequal regions of the world. Letimann's invitation to rethink how we define analytical categories such as gender, race and ethnicity obliges us to give a voice to racialized and excluded people, and to incorporate them in academic work, as well as in the spaces for communicating research results and in the search for the creation of agendas that really have an impact on social justice. The route proposed in his text is clear and can help us to build a better agenda in this direction.


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Barbary, Olivier y Regina Martínez Casas (2015). “L’explosión d’autodéclaration indigène entre les recensements mexicains de 2000 et 2010”. Autrepart, 74-75(2), pp. 215-240.

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— Émiko Saldívar, René Flores y Christina Sue (2019). “Las diferentes caras del mestizaje: etnicidad y raza en México”, en Edward Telles y Regina Martínez Casas (eds.). Pigmentocracias. Color, etnicidad y raza en América Latina. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica.

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Telles, Edward y Regina Martínez Casas (eds.) (2019). Pigmentocracias. Color, etnicidad y raza en América Latina. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Regina Martínez Casas is a linguist and anthropologist. She is a researcher at ciesas since 2002 and member of the sni level ii and the Mexican Academy of Sciences. She is an expert in linguistic and educational policies in Mexico and other Latin American countries and has worked in the training of linguists who speak national indigenous languages, both at the graduate level and with groups of bilingual basic education teachers. She has coordinated several research groups on the impact of megaprojects on indigenous peoples, social policies for indigenous people in contexts of mobility, indigenous children in urban schools, indigenous people in prison, the Mexico-Guatemala cross-border region and the ethnic-racial dynamics in Mexico and its impact on discrimination and inequality.

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